Three generations. Three artists. One family.

A portrait of Gerard, Rik and Joshua van Iersel. About their shared love of art and for one another.

Image Eddie Mol 
Text Paul van Vugt

Joshua van Iersel, age 35

The name Van Iersel … the sound of it alone takes me straight back to the family home and the golden years of my childhood. But our name also feels like a concept, of which I myself am also a product; a film that I’m both watching and acting in at the same time. As an artist, I’m following a path that was already well trodden before I came along. First by my grandfather, then by my father.

When I’m going through the creative process, I’m often strongly connected with them. I feel them very close to me. If I imagine myself from above, I can see them right in front of me. Bent over and absorbed in their work, in a studio that smells of oil paint. Although our work is quite different, we’ve gone through the same processes. The same struggles and questions.

As a kid, I always admired Granddad and Dad’s work. It’s completely full of question marks and exclamation marks. Like taking the top off a volcano and peering into it. It is abstract and obvious at the same time. I still look for answers in Granddad’s canvases: how he created those paint layers. How he makes acrylic look like oils. And how he pulls it all together.

By exploring Granddad and Dad’s work in that way, I get to know them as artists. We share a visual language that we are each able to understand without words. I sometimes discover their approaches in my own work. Those moments are kind of surreal, and I need to stop and put down my brushes. That’s when I get the answer to questions I always had. It’s when I meet them at a crossroads that we each found our own route to.

Rik van Iersel, age 60

I come from a line of two good ‘uns. And I’ve bred two good ‘uns of my own. But I can’t quite wrap my head around our family DNA. The main thing that connects us, is that Van Iersels are not didactic: my parents never told me what to do. They were always there to talk to. And I needed that. “Keep your eyes and ears open. Keep watching and listening all the time”, my mother would say.

I fought against the school system. I had some deep conversations about it with Dad, and perhaps even more with Mum. Both of them mirrored and recognised my feelings. They let me free. Doodling for life.

As a child, I was a compulsive drawer. Whatever was in my head, I’d draw. It was clear to me from an early age that that was what I needed to do. Aged 15, I went to the headmaster and bid him farewell. Mum and Dad got it. They didn’t judge and have always supported me.

I found comfort in the fact that my parents were artists themselves. Unlike the outer world, art was a good thing and accepted in our family. It was very normal to express yourself artistically. I see the same drive in Joshua. He’s growing up in a different era to me, and doing things his own way. I am privileged to be able to watch his life. I get to see him grow – in his work, but most of all, his personal development. That process is amazing to experience as an objective spectator.

Gerard van Iersel, age 87

My father was a watchmaker. He loved intricacy and technical precision. That’s probably why he had a special interest in the visual arts – the Hague school of artists, in particular. His interest in art made me the Van Iersel I am today. He gave me the technical foundations that I would later build on and develop in my own art. In mosaics, stained-glass, reliefs, paintings, sculptures…

The most important thing he passed on to me was a wide-ranging interest. In everything and everyone around him. Luckily, my children and grandchildren are a chip off the old block in that sense. Rik, for example, he’s full of energy. As a child, he would soak up everything he saw. He’d much rather spend time with me than go to school. So he would give me a hand, if I had a commission for a mural, for instance.

I don’t see my art in Rik’s work. I was more about technique, whereas he really works from a place of feeling. He has stories he needs to get out onto paper. But that’s something all Van Iersels have in common. My wife, Nathalie, and I felt it was important that everyone could express themselves. As a family, we’d often sit down together at our long table. “Come on then, out with it”, I’d say. You have to listen and show an interest in what affects a person. And believe me – with five children, there was always something to discuss! Especially during the teenage years.

I feel rich with family around me. The children and the grandchildren. Grateful for what is, and what has been. But Nathalie is no longer with us, and that makes it all a little bit harder.

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